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WHO sounds alarm over adolescents' exposure to tobacco ads, products in Southeast Asia

A generational tobacco ban, leading to a "tobacco-free generation" would be a huge step forward for the region, WHO Regional Director for Southeast Asia Saima Wazed said.
Last Updated : 30 May 2024, 17:12 IST
Last Updated : 30 May 2024, 17:12 IST

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New Delhi: On the eve of the "World No Tobacco Day", WHO Regional Director for Southeast Asia Saima Wazed expressed concern over children and adolescents in the region being regularly exposed to digital marketing of tobacco products, despite preventive policies and regulations in place.

A generational tobacco ban, leading to a "tobacco-free generation" would be a huge step forward for the region, Wazed said.

"The fight against tobacco is particularly important for us in South-East Asia. The tobacco industry's targeting of youth is rampant across our member states. As a result, we have a very worrying 11 million adolescents using various tobacco products. Coupled with the approximate 411 million adult tobacco users, our region, unfortunately, has the highest number of adolescent and adult users globally", Wazed said in a statement.

The tobacco industry lures youths by aggressively introducing new nicotine and tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products, which are becoming increasingly popular among the youths in the region, she said.

This multibillion-dollar industry recruits new tobacco users to reward their investors with even more profits. To achieve this, it preys on children and adolescents through marketing tactics, targeting them with new products, Wazed stated.

"It is worrying that children and adolescents are regularly exposed to the digital marketing of tobacco products. This is despite having policies and regulations in place to prevent this", she said.

"This situation is likely to get worse, as youngsters spend more time on social media and other similar platforms", Wazed said, highlighting that personalised and targeted advertising by the industry appears to dominate here, exposing them to harm.

This year's theme for World No Tobacco Day is 'Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference'.

The tobacco industry is fast to launch new products, using every means to expand market share before the regulations can catch up, she said.

It continues to oppose evidence-based measures, such as increases in excise taxes, and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorships. The companies even threaten legal action against governments that try to protect the health of their citizens, the WHO regional director added.

Wazed pointed out that the response from governments and institutions lags in the matter.

"Our efforts are complicated by the rapid changes in the marketing strategies of the tobacco industry", she said, emphasising that the relevant provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), including Article 5.3, should be implemented in letter and spirit.

Also, necessary tools and support are urgently needed to facilitate monitoring and implementation of the WHO FCTC recommendations in 'online' settings, she added.

"Our goal for our youth is clear. We want to prevent and reduce tobacco consumption, nicotine addiction, and exposure to new tobacco products. To do this, we need a multi-stakeholder approach to frame and implement legislation, policies, regulations and administrative measures", the WHO's South-East Asia director said.

"This approach needs to cast a wide net. We should engage with all relevant government departments, UN and intergovernmental organisations, civil society, the private sector, academia, and the community, including students, teachers and parents", she added.

A generational tobacco ban, leading to a 'tobacco-free generation' would be a huge step forward for the region, Wazed stressed, adding, "For this to happen, the WHO FCTC must be recognized as a legally binding international instrument by all our member states. This ban will require effective enforcement of existing policies, including confronting tobacco industry interference and institutional corruption surrounding the illicit tobacco trade".

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Published 30 May 2024, 17:12 IST

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